History under siege as Kasganj grapples with violence

New Delhi: In 400 BC, while passing through Kasganj, mythology has it that Gautam Buddha prophesied that one day the town’s ruin would come from “flood, fire and feud”. Centuries later, locals were reminded of the prophecy on the morning of 26 January when a fresh round of religious violence broke out.

In a district with a 10.8% (25,000-strong) Muslim population against 88% Hindus, the recent clashes in Kasganj have driven a wedge through the peace that had painstakingly been established since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, in 1992.

Even though 20 kanwariya pilgrims clashed with Muslims in nearby Bareilly in 2017, peace was restored soon enough, given the frequent exchange of trade and commerce between the two communities in the area.

This time around, things took a turn for the worse with the police arresting 110 Muslims for “stoking unrest”—and many local Muslims say they have now lost the nerve to step outside their homes.

“Since 26 January, I have not gone out of the house because we don’t feel safe here anymore. My business has suffered greatly. We are afraid that for one allegation or the other, we will now be persecuted,” said Majeed Noor, a local who runs a meat shop in Kasganj’s Baddu Nagar area.

Ironically, Kasganj is a district with a rich history. Not only does it date back to the Palaeolithic era, it records the presence of Chinese pilgrims and was the birthplace of Amir Khusrau, poet and scholar of the syncretic faith of Sufi Islam, and the 16th century poet Tulsidas.

A few kilometres away from Baddu Nagar, the epicentre of the sectarian violence, in Soron, along the banks of the Ganga, lies a memorial to Tuslidas. With Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas—the epic poem in Awadhi—conceived here, an inspired handful of people now strive to protect the memory.

“Very few people outside Soron know that Tulsidas was born here and the Ramcharitmanas was written here. There is no attempt at preserving the site by the central or the state government because of which we cannot do much to make his legacy known. His descendants still live in the area, his old house is in ruins and there is no maintenance at all,” Satish Bhardwaj, president of the Ganga Bhakt Samiti, told Mint.

Much like Tulsidas, the 13th century Sufi musician, poet and scholar Amir Khusrau’s legacy too, lies forgotten. Today, all that remains is a wilting garden which serves as a memorial in Kasganj’s Patiyali area, and a padlocked library that has fallen into disrepair.

A local municipality worker spoke of the neglect of the saint’s legacy.

“Only locals know that Khusrau was born here and there is a memorial. Nobody ever visits nor has anyone ever shown interest,” Ranjeet Kumar, the municipality worker, said.

“Everyone associates Amir Khusrau with Delhi and Nizamuddin Auliya. No one has ever paid attention to his personal history and his past life which Uttar Pradesh had given shape to. This is largely because such history has been taken for granted in India—neither are students taught about it nor does the state or central government make any effort at spreading an awareness about the existence of such places and their past histories,” said Archana Ojha, associate professor of history at Delhi University.livemint